Coloring with Level Changes

West Coast Swing Online Styling

One of the easiest way to color the dance is with level changes. Any pattern can be danced at different heights: low, normal, or high. By changing between levels during a pattern, the dancers can match the patterns to the melody line of the music.

To dance at a low height, simply add a subtle bend to the knee. You should not drop more than an inch or so; if you go further, it looks like you are squatting. The bend should be soft enough to be camouflaged by your pants.

To dance at a high height, simply straighten the knee and use the ankles to raise the center slightly. Again, changing by more than an inch or two is unnecessary and will make you look unsteady. A small, controlled contrast looks much better than a gigantic lift.

The Drill—Rainbow Effect: On your own or with a partner, dance basic patterns with the start and end of each pattern at your normal height, and the middle of the pattern at a high height. The pattern will look like the arc of a rainbow and will create a light, elevated feeling in the middle of the pattern.

The Drill—Clothesline Effect: On your own or with a partner, dance basic patterns with the start and end of each pattern at your normal height, and with the middle of the pattern dropping to the low height. This effect, which looks like the droop of a clothesline, creates the sense of energy falling into the middle of the pattern before relaxing back to normal.

If you are dancing with a partner, repeat these drills with one partner doing the level changes and the other partner remaining at the normal height. The partner who is not doing the level changes should not feel a shift in the connection while the height-changing partner moves.

This method of coloring the dance works great for many R&B songs, such as R. Kelly’s “Love Letter” (Amazon affiliate link):

Try dancing to that song and matching the level changes to R. Kelly’s voice. In each lyric line of the chorus (e.g., “Did you get my call—”), there is a natural arc upwards that begs for a height change. At the end of each verse line, the song has a downward energy that is suited for a change to a lower level. By dancing to these moments and recovering to a neutral height afterwards, you can easily show the lyrical range of the song.

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